Kingdom to Koffee
By Gary VanDeWalker
Yaks in Dunsmuir
Every day, thousands of cars hurry by Exit 730 in Dunsmuir. To the west, a red building supports glowing letters reading YAKS. Inside, a glass display case is stacked with trays of sticky buns. Painted artwork covers the walls turning up onto the ceiling. The crooning voice of a lounge singer mixes with conversations taking place over steaming cups of espresso.
Born and raised in Mount Shasta, Mike Kerns’ life moved in many directions. He left for Reno and a job as a house painter. Three months later, he found faith and rebooted his life. His journey led him back to Northern California, where he became a pastor and the odd road to becoming a restaurateur began.
“There were 125 people in my church and they all loved coffee,” Kerns says. “We decided to do a fund raiser, delivering specialty coffees.” The first day brought in $36. In six weeks, the church moved 700 cups of coffee a day. A call from the health department informed the church they were a business and needed the proper permits. “The coffee thing blew our minds,” Kerns says.
Kerns opened his first shop in Redding. In all, six stores emerged. Business remained brisk, but Kerns looked for yet another change. “Our daughters were grown and gone,” Kern says. “I looked north to Siskiyou County.”
The seventh location opened in Mount Shasta, with 80 percent of all the product, down to the ketchup, being produced by Kerns. The logistics of transportation and time allocation between Redding and Mount Shasta led to another decision. One by one, the Redding locations were closed and consolidated to the north.
Space became the new concern. In October 2012, Kerns looked in Dunsmuir. He found a building with a basement as large as the main floor. He opened Yaks there on July 5, 2013.
Inside, the warm glow of light comes from fixtures made of inverted water goblets. The tables and chairs are unique each hand picked. The waitress delivers a sample of sticky bun, while customers listen for the bell announcing their order.
Across the hardwood floor come plates of spicy chicken nachos. Another customer receives the most popular entree, the Bacon Overload. The sandwich is a steak hamburger, consisting of a blend of three cuts of flame-broiled Prather beef. It comes on a fresh baked roll, crisped with butter. The burger is hidden under a mound of bacon crumbles and garlic-bacon coated onion straws. Breakfast includes bread baked fresh for French toast, covered with Bailey’s and Bourbon syrup.
Coffee beans are roasted on site. “I want us to be the living room for the community,” Kerns says. “In Italy, there is an espresso shop on every corner. There coffee is the glue of the community and how people connect.” Yaks roasts both conventional and organic fair trade beans using product from Indonesia, South America, and Africa, in creating an espresso blend. The Cuban Shot has raw sugar placed on top as it is pulled, sweetening the coffee as it melts into the cup. Kerns says, “When a barista knows how to pull a shot of espresso, its magic.”
Kern is French chef trained. “Dunsmuir is the epicurean center of Siskiyou County,” Kerns says. With the Brewery, the Dogwood Diner, Cafe Maddalena and Senthong’s, each chef has amazing cooking experiences which are transformative to this community.”
Soon Yaks will be serving a wide selection of microbrews. The retail section is being expanded to carry the sauces, dressings and drinks so customers may enjoy them at home. People flow in and out, with boxes of sticky buns going home with most, extending their culinary discovery to later in the day.
A man stops and introduces himself to Kerns, telling of his job at Google and his frequent trips up and down the West Coast. “From San Diego to Seattle, this is the best burger I’ve ever tasted in my entire life,” the young man says. “Your burgers taste like Chef Gordon Ramsey wishes his did.”
Kerns smiles, thanking the man. He turns and look down the length of the restaurant and says, “We would never charge you money if we weren’t willing to buy it ourselves.”